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Books: Move over 'sci-fi', here comes 'cli-fi'

Dan BloomThe Christian Science Monitor
Ruth glacier, Alaska Range, Denali National Park. July 19, 2012 Loren Holmes photo

Two years ago, I wrote a piece for Alaska Dispatch that was headlined "Humanity's climate future is warm and dystopian, and set in Alaska," and I used the novel literary term of "cli-fi" -- for climate fiction -- to introduce an Oklahoma author who had written a clif-fi novel about a so-called "polar city" outside Fairbanks in 2075.

In the year since his novel hit book-ordering sites, Jim Laughter's cli-fi thriller has sold just 271 copies nationwide, which just goes to show that selling e-books, especially dystopian novels about polar cities in Alaska, is not an easy thing. Still, it was worth the effort, and both Jim and I learned a lot about book marketing in the process.

But what is worth noting now is that the term "cli-fi" is beginning to pick up steam as a literary genre, with NPR and the Christian Science Monitor both doing trend stories about cli-fi novels in April.

Some background: I'm a one-man band climate activist, and in 2008 I coined "cli-fi" as a subgenre of sci-fi, and have been using the term on blogs and websites and op-eds. But the mainstream media never picked up on the term, however, until this spring when NPR did a major story about “cli-fi” followed by massive Twitter responses. As a result of the NPR show, cli-fi took off in both the blogosphere and the Web.

It was nice to see NPR host Scott Simon bless the new term in his introduction to the five-minute segment on "All Things Considered," and for the Monitor to second his approval. The positive end result of all this is that the term “cli-fi” is now out there for all to see and discuss and the word is out.

Alaska has already been the focus of several cli-fi novels, and one book, "Botanicaust," was written by Tam Linsey, a Chugiak author and longtime Alaskan, has been well-received.

Said one reviewer: "I don't normally read sci-fi but, I absolutely loved 'Botanicaust'. Tam Linsey has a way of telling a very believable dystopia scenario that kept me turning page after page."

Now while some might call Linsey's book sci-fi, I call it cli-fi -- as a subgenre of sci-fi -- because it tells a story very much related to climate change and global warming.

What I like about the cli-fi term is that it can serve as a convenient way to find novels about climate change in both brick-and-mortar bookstores and from e-retailers. Already, Amazon lists cli-fi as a genre in its book search data, and you only need to type in the words for a book search at Amazon and you will be taken to cli-fi books. Thanks to NPR, the cli-fi term has made the grade.

Will it stick? That’s up to readers, both inside and outside the science fiction community. We shall see.

One thing is for sure. Alaska will be more and more the ground zero of cli-fi novels and movies during the next 100 years, as climate refugees along Alaska's coast are forced to head inland to find shelter, and as millions of refugees from the Lower 48 trek north to Alaska in the coming centuries in search of food, fuel and shelter.

Polar cities in Alaska to house millions of climate refugees from the Lower 48? That's too far-fetched to even consider. But in a cli-fi novel, anything can happen. Get ready.

Dan Bloom is a former editor of the Capital CIty Weekly in Juneau and now lives in Taiwan.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.